EL VY is the brainchild of Matt Berninger, brooding frontman of The National, the esteemed masters of elegant, melancholic soft-rock and Brent Knopf of Portland indie rock bands Menomena and Ramona Falls. Tonight was their penultimate show on their tour off the back of debut Return to the Moon. Approaching this new project as a fan of The National, I was sure in good company. Whilst a triumphant performance for the duo, the gig attested more to Berninger’s demi-God status than anything else.
Critics were quick to cast a sceptical eye towards this new venture, keen to judge whether Berninger’s web of idiosyncratic, weighty metaphors constituted most of The National’s appeal, and whether it stood up independently of the genius instrumentation of his bandmates. Probably my favourite whimsical Berninger line from this album is on the title track: ‘Scratched a ticket with a leg of a cricket and I got triple Jesus’. Personally, I love Return to the Moon. The album is more dynamic than a National record, embracing a wider sonic scope; from the sexy swagger of ‘I’m the Man to Be’ to the upbeat, jangling riffs of the title track, contrasted against Berninger’s sighing baritone vocals. Though there is something about Knopf’s occasionally clunky keyboard arrangements that doesn’t form such a natural partnership to Berninger’s voice. This said, the whole set is perfectly paced, enrapturing you all the way through- it hits all the right spots. In a blissful one hour set, EL VY bristle with electricity throughout, gliding effortlessly from the down-tempo, self-reflective lamentations of ‘Paul is Alive’ and ‘It’s a Game’, to the raucous energy of ‘Sad Case’ and ‘Happiness, Missouri’.
Obviously, seeing Berninger play such a small venue as Gorilla was deeply exciting. When The National last played on our shores a year ago, it was a show of epic proportions, at the O2 Arena, London. EL VY’s stage presence is big enough to make this place implode; Berninger is in his element, confidently flirting with the crowd with his on-point banter. He takes every opportunity to roll around in the crowds’ teeming mass of groping hands, like an adored, spoilt kitten. The audience is warm putty in his hands, ready to sell their souls to him for a touch of that beard. His lyrics are bellowed back at him, a particular favourite being the surreal ‘I’m peaceful cuz my dick’s in sunlight, held up by kites’ of ‘I’m the Man to Be’’s chorus. During this song, Berninger’s mic breaks and decisively casting it to the ground, he attempts to roar out his words by bare vocal power, much to the audience’s applause. In seconds the room is alive with aiding voices. Meanwhile, the relatively reserved Knopf seems happy to bemusedly watch Berninger’s show-stealing stage antics from the edge. EL VY play almost every song off Return to the Moon, rounding off with a joyous, wholehearted rendition of Fine Young Cannibals’ ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ and an even more ecstatically received encore of ‘I’m the Man to Be’, seasoned with a good dose of Berninger-crowd-surfing.
After the band left the stage, praises resounded throughout the venue. A true bond was formed between the rock n roll frontman and his fans tonight; the glue being those lyrics, Berninger’s poetic oddities, which clearly capture hearts and minds. Whilst EL VY is a great project, showcasing both musicians strengths, everyone knows Matt Berninger is the man to be tonight.By Sophie Brear